On Tuesday evening the Borough Hall was packed for a meeting of Headland residents to discuss coastal and flooding plans for that part of town.
As a coastal town, Hartlepool has to be mindful of sea levels and the frequency and severity of storms from the North Sea.
It is unlikely that we will experience the battering of the coast that the eastern side of the United States took from Hurricane Irene.
However, the evidence suggests that sea levels are rising and that weather conditions are becoming more turbulent. Storms and gales that only a few years ago were judged to be a once in a century event are now forecast to occur once every forty or fifty years.
It is vital that work in our part of the world is carried out to safeguard the North-East coast for the future.
It is in this context that studies have been undertaken to assess the condition of the existing sea wall defences on the Headland, calculate how they would withstand worsening conditions such as more frequent storms and floods, and consider the options that are available.
It is this latter point which has caused so much understandable concern on the Headland.
The consultants put forward four possible options, and option 4 – to demolish the sea wall and promenade next to the Town Moor and let nature take its course – would leave much of the valued and historic part of the town under threat from the elements.
The worst case scenario under this option would mean that upwards of 500 homes on Marine Drive and the surrounding area, the Heugh Gun Battery, St Bega’s Primary School, the lighthouse and the memorial gardens close to Cliff and Radcliffe Terraces would be at risk of falling into the sea.
Quite understandably, this has caused real concern, even panic, amongst residents. They will have seen computer-generated pictures of Headland features like the lighthouse under water, felt that this scenario was inevitable and feared the worst.
The Mayor, Stuart Drummond, attended the event on Tuesday night at the Borough Council, together with Councillor Robbie Payne, the cabinet portfolio holder with responsibility for finance, Jim Ainslie, chairman of the Headland Parish Council and Robert Price, chairman of a local pressure group designed to ensure that Option 4 is not pursued.
The Mayor stated that Hartlepool Borough Council and its Cabinet would not support Option 4 as a realistic option. I think that promise reassured people and was welcomed by all in attendance.
It is important that an assessment of what is required is carried out professionally, promptly and effectively. In terms of using relevant intelligence, I would certainly include Headland residents in that category.
There are many generations of families in the area, who have second-to-none knowledge of the daily routine of the North Sea, its tidal flows and what is needed.
I would always bow down to the superior expertise of the residents of the Headland when deciding on coastal defences and their analysis of the importance of the Heugh breakwater and Sandwell Gate has been made clear to me many times, not least at Tuesday’s meeting.
I would like to see a solution that lasts well into the future and which can reassure Headland residents for generations to come.
There is little point in placing sticking plasters over the problem only to find more taxpayers’ money, as well as greater inconvenience, hassle and worry for residents, is required in five years’ time. I hope that the work done lasts for a century or more.
I have asked Parliamentary Questions to the Environment Secretary earlier this summer on the Government’s policy on this important matter, as well as the availability of funding for the Headland, and will receive responses when Parliament returns on Monday.
I have also today written to the Environment Agency asking for more information on flooding risk for the area. I want Headland residents to have as much information available to them as possible.
I hope people from the Headland feel more reassured as a result of Tuesday’s meeting. I also hope that they will use their considerable expertise and knowledge of the local area to shape the solution.